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Square takes on Shopify with new micro-merchant tools

Square takes on Shopify with new micro-merchant tools
[Photo: courtesy of Square]

Eleven months since acquiring website-builder Weebly for $365 million, Square is ready to unveil a full-fledged online storefront for its sellers—the company’s first major foray into e-commerce. Powered by Weebly technology that has been woven into the Square payments ecosystem, Square Online Store offers merchants the option to sell through their own digital storefronts. It boasts functionality similar to that of competitors like Shopify, while at the same time connecting merchants to social platforms and aggregator marketplaces, where online shopping often begins.

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In today’s retail environment, “having your own online store is not going to be enough,” says David Rusenko, Square’s head of e-commerce. “The power is shifting to buyers. Buyers are saying, here’s where I am and here’s what’s convenient for me.” Square’s goal, he says, is to save merchants “time and hassle” as they navigate that complexity.

[Photo: courtesy of Square]
Square Online Store includes shipping and in-store pickup, tools that have become crucial for small-scale retailers seeking to replicate the convenience and speed that Amazon has normalized. The product also allows for Instagram selling, using Instagram’s “link in bio” feature as a launching point for checkout. (In a nod to just how crucial Instagram-based shopping has become, the social network itself introduced in-app checkout just yesterday, with transactions processed by PayPal.)

For Square, this e-commerce solution comes just in time—if not late to the game. The San Francisco-based company first made its mark on the payments industry by successfully courting offline micro-merchants, a segment that most point-of-sale players had ignored. But the industry’s future lives online, and competition for e-commerce transactions has grown increasingly fierce. In the fourth quarter of 2018, e-commerce comprised roughly 10% of Square’s gross payment volume, driven by products like invoicing. Visa and MasterCard, in contrast, have said that e-commerce’s share of their volumes is closer to 20%.

“There is no trend more important in payments than e-commerce,” says Lisa Ellis, an analyst at MoffettNathanson. “It’s like a tidal wave in the market. And they’ve found themselves in a position where they’re behind.”

To reach potential Square Online Store customers, the company plans to notify its existing merchant base through in-app notifications and email. It also hopes that the new functionality will draw in sellers who might not have otherwise considered Square.

In conjunction with the unveiling of Square Online Store, the company is releasing a revamped version of Square for Retail, the in-store point-of-sale app designed for boutiques like Oak & Lace, located in Columbia, Tennessee. Casey Bryant, owner of Oak & Lace, started experimenting with a demo version of Square Online Store last May. She was able to get her online store up and running in just a few hours. In the months since, she has received orders from as far afield as California, Michigan, and Texas. Her regulars are using the site, too, she says: “Some local customers want us to ship it, even in the same town.”

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